Families of Boeing 737 Max crashes ask for 'independent monitor'

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

The families that lost loved ones in two fatal Boeing 737 Max plane crashes asked a U.S. district judge to appoint an independent monitor to track the company’s progress on improvements to its safety culture.

The monitor — an outside aviation expert who is not affiliated with Boeing — would spend five years reviewing and suggesting changes to the jet maker’s safety and quality assurance processes, according to a proposal that the attorneys representing the families filed in federal district court Monday.

“Boeing’s lack of full and transparent safety efforts requires an aggressive response,” Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and an attorney representing several of the families, said in a statement. “Only an independent, judicially appointed monitor can restore Boeing’s credibility and implement the safety measures that the flying public deserves.”

The motion comes as the families are waiting for the Justice Department to determine whether it will prosecute Boeing on fraud charges following the two Max crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019.

Those charges have been on hold since Boeing and federal prosecutors entered into a 2021 agreement that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution if it met certain conditions for the next three years.

In May, the Justice Department determined Boeing had violated the terms of that agreement, opening the door for federal prosecutors to reconsider pursuing criminal charges against the company.

It’s still unclear what the Justice Department will do next, though it is expected to make a decision by July 7. In the last few days, news outlets have reported conflicting information about what to expect. The New York Times wrote Friday that the Justice Department was considering allowing Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution. Reuters and The Washington Post have since reported that federal prosecutors are recommending criminal charges. All three reports are based on anonymous sources.

The Justice Department said Friday it had not yet made a decision.

This isn’t the first time the attorneys representing the victims’ families have sought an independent monitor to track Boeing’s progress. A federal district judge in Texas, where the deferred prosecution agreement was entered into, denied the request in 2023 because there was no evidence that Boeing posed a threat to public safety.

That’s no longer the case, the attorneys for the victims’ families argued in court documents Monday.


Attorneys pointed to recent safety incidents, including a panel blowing off a 737 Max 9 plane midflight in January, and recent allegations from whistleblowers that the company was not prioritizing safety in its factories. The attorneys also cited Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun’s statements at a recent Congressional hearing where the executive said he was “proud” of the company’s safety records and actions.

Those attorneys suggested Javier de Luis, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could act as the monitor. De Luis lost his sister, Graziella, when a Boeing 737 Max plane crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019. That crash came just months after another Boeing 737 Max crashed in Indonesia in October 2018.

De Luis was part of an expert panel convened by the Federal Aviation Administration to study Boeing’s safety culture after the fatal Max crashes. In a report released in February, the panel found Boeing’s push to improve its safety culture has not taken hold at all levels of the company and that Boeing needs to make substantive upgrades.

Though the specifics could change following responses from Boeing and the Justice Department, the proposed independent monitor would review several aspects of Boeing’s safety culture and manufacturing process, according to court documents filed Monday. Among those listed, the monitor would track how often airplanes were grounded for more than 12 hours due to mechanical defects, how often suppliers struggled to make timely deliveries and how often Boeing would move aircraft along the factory line with incomplete jobs.

The proposed order would also require Boeing to set up a phone line for employees to communicate anonymously with the monitor about concerns or misconduct.

Last week, in a letter to the Justice Department, Cassell asked federal prosecutors to move quickly to prosecute the company and to fine Boeing $24.8 billion. The sum is justified “because Boeing’s crime is the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history,” Cassell wrote.

Boeing didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. The company previously said it believes it has met its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement and will continue to “engage transparently” with the Justice Department.

Boeing would pay for the independent monitor, according to the proposal filed Monday.

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